June 19, 2013

On Campus: Math a must for reporting

Reporter talks to teens in an algebra class about using math every day to check reports, make sense of an overload of information.

Nothing like a sunny summer day to study algebra?

I spent some time Wednesday morning talking to a Waterford High class about why anybody would bother solving for that silly x.

A two-page report from this week’s Modesto City Schools two-inch thick agenda packet served as my Exhibit A. It recommends paying $111,000 a year for a volume licensing program that would save $1.5 million over the next five years. Wow! Pay $111,000 and save $1.5 million — what a deal!

Ah, but math savvy folks see the issue. The $1.5 million is over five years. Do the math and it’s still a good deal (saving $189,000 a year), but it takes algebra to check that number.

If I had a tool belt, I’d keep a $2 calculator and Excel 2010 in the pouches. But checking the numbers, figuring percentages and watching the charts is just the tip of the iceberg.

Try taking notes during a news show and it quickly becomes clear writing every word won’t cut it.

Now try writing the gist of what’s being said as equations and arrows. This is greater than that. Do a and b will rise. Do c and b will go down. A triangle, the Greek delta, means “change.”

I think I lost them on that last. But some day, half way through a college lecture that’s too boring for words, they’ll remember equations.

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